Kim Jong Un could be presenting daughter as successor as he ‘seeks to portray family as being like British monarchy’


Kim Jong Un may be appearing with his daughter in public to present her as a potential successor as he seeks to portray his family as being a dynasty like the British Royal Family, an expert on the secretive country has said.

Jean H Lee, who set up the Associated Press news agency’s first bureau in North Korea, made the remarks weeks after the dictator made his sixth public appearance with his daughter Kim Ju Ae.

The girl is believed to be around 10-years-old and Ms Lee said there has been a “theme” to the events she has been attending as they tend to involve “weapons and missiles”.

Ms Lee, who reported from inside North Korea from 2008 to 2017, said the most striking images of Kim Ju Ae are from when she attended a military banquet to mark the 75th anniversary of the country’s army in February.

“When you look at these pictures she’s front and centre. She is there. It’s like this tableau of father, mother, daughter. And I think what people noticed, of course, first and foremost was, ‘oh my gosh, he’s presenting his daughter’. What does that mean?”, she told the latest episode of the Sky News Daily podcast.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un talks with his daughter Kim Ju Ae at a banquet to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Korean People's Army the following day, in Pyongyang, North Korea
Kim Jong Un talks with his daughter Kim Ju Ae at the banquet to mark the army’s 75th anniversary

Ms Lee said it reminded her of when the dictator’s grandfather presented his wife and young son, Kim Jong Un’s father Kim Jong Il, at the military parade on the same day 75 years earlier.

Though many will question whether it is possible for a patriarchal country such as North Korea to have a female leader, Ms Lee highlights there are a number of women working in high office in the secretive country.

North Korea’s foreign minister Choe Son Hui, is a woman and Mr Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong is one of his top foreign policy officials.

“We’ve had female rulers in societies at times where many women had no rights. Queen Victoria, for example,” Ms Lee added.

“But I do think one thing about North Korea that’s very interesting is that women do take on leadership roles. It’s a communist or it’s a socialist country.”

Read more:
Meet Kim Jong Un’s ‘precious’ child Ju Ae – and possibly his likely successor

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks with his daughter Kim Ju Ae and his wife Ri Sol Ju while attending a banquet to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Korean People's Army the following day, in Pyongyang, North Korea February
Mr Kim with his daughter Kim Ju Ae and his wife Ri Sol Ju at the banquet

Kim may want to portray his family as ‘being like the British royals’

On a potential future role for Kim Ju Ae, Ms Lee said: “She’s very young and we know so little about what’s happening inside North Korea to say that this is a succession process, but I do think that we know that it’s a cultivation of the Kim family, monarchy and dynasty.”

“I’m sure there is in some part a strategy of trying to portray themselves, kind of like the Royal Family in the United Kingdom.”

People lay flowers in front of the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mansu Hill in the North Korean capital
People lay flowers in front of the statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in the North Korean capital

‘Lots of reasons to be nervous’

Meanwhile, James Fretwell, an analyst at the North Korean news monitoring service NK News, told the Sky News Daily podcast there are “lots of good reasons to be nervous” as Mr Kim’s military carries out weapons tests.

Mr Fretwell said the “main reason” North Korea wants nuclear weapons is to prevent the United States or South Korea from thinking they can attack and get rid of Kim Jong Un’s regime.

However, he said North Korea may also want to use nuclear weapons to build up its military to invade South Korea and unify the peninsula.

“Now, that might seem like a crazy idea, but when we look at what capabilities North Korea is focusing on now it seems it has conducted a lot of long-range missile tests.

“It also seems to be moving towards tactical nuclear weapons.”

Read more:
Kim Jong Un brings young daughter to football in sixth public appearance

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Kim Jong Un’s daughter appears at parade

What is it like living and working in North Korea?

Ms Lee, who is Korean-American and now works as a Korean expert at the Wilson Institute in Washington, stressed that the people in North Korea are “not as robotic as they may seem” and many are the “most opinionated people I know”.

“Some are super funny, an incredible sense of humour, really affectionate. These are the kinds of relationships I had.”

Mr Fretwell said he looks a lot at North Korean state media, reads all of their newspapers and watches all of their television.

“Even though it is propaganda, you can get some useful insights from that TV footage. It’s not the best way of trying to report on the country. And North Korea is extremely secret by its very nature.”

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